This past Thursday I went to the latest Philadelphia Night Market, held in the Fairmount section of the city. It was one of those things I’d been idly wanting to check out for a while now, but only a few are held each year; every time one came around, I already had other plans I was loathe to ditch for an evening spent waiting in various lines for expensive mini-portions of food, only to have to stay on my feet continually dodging the crowd in an attempt to eat said mini-portions of food.
The market is intended to be a celebration of street food, and basically its a big food truck round-up. Notable representatives from the local mobile food scene pull up and park on specially closed city streets, joined by some brick-and-mortar establishments camping out under rented tents. People can nom their way through a large variety of cuisines, the market set-up allowing for a kind of DIY tasting menu approach.
The festival started around 6 and went until 10; I arrived just after 6 and headed straight for a beer tent. I was encouraged by the ten minute wait for a tasty pint of local brew in a plastic cup. Maybe the stories I’d heard about epic hour-long waits for some kimchi-topped Korean BBQ were exaggerated.
Twenty or so minutes later, and it was clear that no one had exaggerated about the lines. I’ve been to many street festivals in Philadelphia over the years – and quite a few in New York – and I had never seen a mass of humans like this at any remotely similar event. I waited half an hour — first in one line to order, and then in another to receive my order — for two small tacos that were relatively inexpensive at 4 bucks each, until you consider that came out to more than a buck a bite. Then I waited twenty more minutes elsewhere to be handed a single scoop of ice cream, another 4 dollars for what amounted to a large tablespoon of rapidly melting ice cream precariously clinging to a small cone.
Still hungry, I looked around for more to eat. But all I saw was an endless sea of people forming comically long lines that snaked down blocks and threaded through each other as the roving crowd tried to make their way past in order to reach other equally long lines somewhere down the street.
I lasted an hour and a half altogether before I ducked out on a side street and started making my way home, hungry and a bit irritable, exhausted and overwhelmed by the surging crowd. I microwaved a frozen burrito, had a glass of wine, and mentally crossed off the night market from my Philadelphia to-do list. I had finally done it, and discovered that once was enough.
The view, as I was leaving: